Tag Archives: books

Drawing Our Own Literary Maps

brooklyn magThe political maps I’ve been seeing all week during this election cycle reminded me of a different sort of U.S. map that my sister emailed to me a while back. That map was created by Brooklyn Magazine to find a literary novel that best evokes the essence of each of the 50 states. The creators acknowledge that it’s impossible to completely “capture the spirit of something so unwieldy as a state.” Agreed; yet, the visual of this map is certainly a pretty picture and the concept of finding the quintessential literary novel for each state is definitely provocative.

In looking at the map, the literary pairings of novels with states were curious to me. In particular, I had strong reactions to the choices for the two very different states where I’ve spent the bulk of my life: Kentucky and Massachusetts.

For Kentucky, the map shows Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel Beloved, which is an incredible work of literature with its backstory set on a plantation in Kentucky. I read it years ago and what has stuck with me so clearly from that book was the vivid and sometimes supernatural experiences of the characters, although the Kentucky depicted did not necessarily feel to me like the state that I knew so well.

I grew up in Kentucky, and for me, no writer captures the essence of Kentucky the way Wendell Berry does in most of his work. His use of language and character evokes a sense of places I’ve been and people I’ve known. As for a novel’s setting that portrays my hometown of Lexington a tee, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards would be my choice.

The map’s Massachusetts selection of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath caught me by surprise. In my reading of that masterful novel, I personally fixated on the events that transpired during the protagonist’s glitzy magazine internship experience in New York City. For me, Ann Patchett’s Run comes to mind when I think about a novel distinctly set in the Boston I have come to know well from living in the area for the past two decades.

Looking at the literary US map was an excellent reminder to me of how everyone brings their own experiences and associations to their reading. Part of what’s so great about sharing our reading experiences is learning what others find interesting in a book, and also learning more about ourselves in the process.

What do you think of this map? Do you have associations with certain states that jump out more clearly for you than these choices?


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Teen Time

TRW14_1000x200I have a newly minted teenager in the house, which is probably why the pronouncement of Teen Read Week from Oct. 12-18 caught my attention. If you haven’t heard, the Young Adult Library Services Association and Blink–a young adult imprint–have partnered to sponsor events at public libraries around the country designed to motivate teens to read.

My 13-year-old daughter happens to be an avid reader. Like most young teens, however, she’s extremely busy with school work and activities. She rarely has free time, and when she does, so many other outlets are vying for her attention–watching Netflix, texting friends, painting toenails, torturing little brothers, etc.–that sitting down to savor a book can fall pretty far down her list of ways to spend time.

As her mom, I find myself actively encouraging my teen to make time to read. Not only is reading a great way for teenagers to develop and expand their minds, but it also can offer a much-needed and relaxing escape from the constant barrage of social and academic pressures that hammer away at kids today.

In honor of Teen Read Week, my daughter and I have come up with a list of five must-read teen novels, in no particular order: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

Check out the list of 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels accumulated by NPR. What are your favorites?

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Back to the Grind

Back-to-SchoolThis summer, my two older kids went to sleepaway camp for a few very long weeks. I missed them, of course, but despite several big projects swirling around at home, I was able to devour some of the titles that had been piling up for months on my desk. Some favorites included Sutton by J.R. Moehringer, Defending Jacob: A Novel by William Landay and Peony by Pearl S. Buck. I also read my friend Melissa Schorr’s sweet teen novel Goy Crazy.

I know many parents who view the end of summer with a sense of relief. Some of them work at jobs with a set schedule and struggle to find ways to transport their kids to activities during the days when school is not in session. Some stay at home and get fed up being a 24-7 activity planner for several months straight.

For me, the beginning of September felt a little more bitter than sweet last week as my three kids zipped up their backpacks and headed back to their three respective schools (pre-, elementary and middle schools). I will miss our relaxing summer days. And although I appreciate the abundant opportunities available to kids in our community, I also find the meticulous schedule juggling and seemingly endless chauffeuring around town to be a serious bummer. At least I can hope to read a few pages while I wait in the car for my daughter to finish her dance lessons!

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Boy Book Group

ImageOther than playing Minecraft and watching Modern Family, my 10-year-old son does not willingly remain still for more than 10 minutes at a time. This personality trait does not naturally gel with a love of reading books.
Teaching him to kick back and enjoy reading has been essential to me as a parent, so I have worked at it over the years by helping him seek out just the right books to hold his attention. His ideal reading material is suspenseful without being too scary, funny without degenerating into total stupidity, informative without being boring, and most important, not terribly sad. Death, zombies, deadbeat parents, kids being really mean to each other—this stuff sends him running for the hills. Finding his favorites has involved some serious research, often on my part.
When a friend invited him to join a bookgroup last year, I was thrilled. I thought, yippeee! Here would be a great source of cool kid-approved books and what fun it would be for the boys to have an excuse to get together.
Alas, the bookgroup did not work out the way I had envisioned. A few challenges arose right away. One was that this group of five to six boys ignited each other’s energy levels like wildfire. Before the adults could channel them into a meaningful book-related discussion, they morphed into a pack of rowdy monkeys—hooting, throwing snacks at each other, and bouncing off the furniture. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised by this behavior. We’d known these kids long enough to know how enthusiastically boys react to their friends, but our idealism had naively led us to believe we might be able to foster a meaningful discussion.
Another challenge was that scheduling times to meet was virtually impossible, with sports, music lessons, the needs of siblings, etc., all interfering with our desire to meet and talk books. This was the obstacle that inevitably broke us down, reluctantly abandoning this group reading endeavor for our boys.
Even so, I don’t consider our book group experience to be a failure. The few times we met, the boys introduced each other to appropriate and exciting books that they all read, if not cover to cover, maybe just enough to get a taste of a new piece of literature. Some book-related discussion happened, albeit maybe only a few hectic minutes worth, but that little bit most certainly still counts.
At this point, I am proud to report that my son is growing into an avid reader. His school participates in the Battle of the Books (www.battleofthebooks.org) program and his team has advanced to the fourth grade finals. When he came home from school yesterday to share how well his team had competed, he sported the same triumphant glow he has following a soccer victory. Perhaps there’s hope for another book group adventure?


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